New England hiking trails don’t get as much love as their western/West Coast counterparts (kind of like skiing), but they’re definitely worth trying out if you have a chance. One of the most popular is the Franconia Ridge Loop in New Hampshire, a strenuous 8.9-mile day hike that takes you up three of the state’s famed 4000-foot peaks.
I have done the hike on sunny and on rainy/overcast days. If you only have one chance to do this hike, I highly recommend waiting for a clear day. As you ascend the peaks and hike the ridges between, you’ll have stunning views of the White Mountains and Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
If you live in or are visiting Boston and are looking for a challenging hike a reasonable distance from city, this trail is only 2.5 hours north. During the summer months, you can hike the trail at a relaxed pace and be back home by sundown.
Franconia Notch State Park straddles Lincoln and Franconia, New Hampshire and can be accessed via either the north or southbound side of Interstate 93. There are parking areas on both sides of the interstate. If you park on the southbound side, there is a path that will take you underneath the interstate to the trailhead.
During peak season, get there early as the parking lots fill up quickly. Some visitors park along the interstate, but this is very dangerous and illegal. New Hampshire State Parks recently began a shuttle service to transport visitors from more distant parking areas to the trailhead.
- Trail type: Loop
- Mountains: Little Haystack Mountain (4,760’); Mount Lincoln (5,089’); Mount Lafayette (5,249’)
- Distance: 8.9 miles
- Falling Waters Trail: 2 miles
- Franconia Ridge Trail (Little Haystack Mountain → Mount Lafayette): 1.7 miles
- Greenleaf Trail (Mount Lafayette → AMC Hut): 1.1 miles
- Old Bridle Path Trail: 2.9 miles
- Elevation gain: 3,860’
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Time: 6-8 hours
- Dog friendly: Yes
- Trail condition: Mixture of logging roads and rock staircases
- Phone reception: Spotty above the treeline
- Weather: The weather in the White Mountains can change drastically as you reach higher elevations. Bring layers and rain gear.
The trailhead is adjacent to the Lafayette Place parking lot on the northbound side of Interstate 93. During days with active or impending inclement weather, there is sometimes a park ranger at the trailhead inspecting hikers for preparedness. On one of my visits, I watched some potential hikers be turned away because they were not wearing proper footwear and didn’t bring rain gear.
The hike starts with a short walk (0.2 miles) on the Old Bridle Path Trail before you reach a fork. Going left, you continue up the Old Bridle Path trail, starting a clockwise path on the loop. The right fork will put you on the Falling Waters Trail. The Old Bridle Path option is more strenuous, taking you up a steep hike to the peak of Mount Lafayette. Falling Waters is more gradual and leads to the shortest peak, Little Haystack. I’ll describe the Falling Waters option, as I am more familiar with this route.
Falling Waters Trail
As the name suggests, Falling Waters Trail requires you to cross multiple creeks and streams and walk along a few stunning waterfalls. Be warned that the rocks are slick and creeks flow very vigorously especially after rainstorms. The trail is heavily forested with few opportunities for views of the larger mountain range. This suddenly changes upon reaching the peak of Little Haystack, when you will have a clear view of the upcoming mountains on the path.
Franconia Ridge Trail
Upon reaching Little Haystack, you’ll make a left to continue along the Franconia Ridge Trail. It’s a steady climb up a ridge first to the summit of Mount Lincoln and then to Mount Lafayette. The Mount Lafayette peak is a popular resting point for hikers coming from either direction. During peak season it’s a very busy spot.
Taking a left from Mount Lafayette will put you on the Greenleaf Trail. You’ll walk along a rocky path for 1.1 miles until you reach the Greenleaf Hut. Greenleaf is one of eight lodging locations operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in the White Mountains. Greenleaf has fresh water, bathrooms, bunkrooms, and hot meals. It’s a popular place from thru hikers to spend the night.
Old Bridle Path
After leaving the Greenleaf Hut, you’ll begin the final leg of the hike down the Old Bridle Path Trail. If you’re a plant lover, you’ll enjoy seeing multiple species native to Northern New England like Rhododendrons, wild sedges, and mountain cranberries. At the end of the trail, you’ll descend a rock staircase before reaching the junction with Falling Waters Trail and then continuing back to the trailhead.
What to Bring
During a hike in the White Mountains, you may experience heat, cold, rain, and strong winds all in one day. Be sure to pack multiple types of clothing to keep you safe and comfortable. Waterproof hiking boots will keep your feet dry as you walk through multiple creeks. This hike is physically demanding, and you will need plenty of snacks and water.
Hike the Whites!
I love the topographical diversity you experience when hiking in the White Mountains. It’s a beautiful place and I encourage people to come visit.
Yetunde Abass is a active hiker, trail runner, and traveler who loves exploring her surroundings in New England. A Texas native, she currently lives in Western Massachusetts.